Bourbeuse River Operation Clean Stream

Tires are one of the biggest problems for volunteers with the Bourbeuse River Operation Clean Stream, and they have been ever since the group took charge of a 145-mile stretch back in August 1985.

“We still see plenty of tires,” said Frank Freise, Union, who is co-chairing this year’s 30th anniversary event with Len Benter, Union.

Big items like appliances and cars are found in the river less frequently than they were in the ’80s. Small trash, like bottles and cans, has been diminished, too, but tires persist. Year after year, Clean Stream volunteers haul them out of the river.

“Tires are probably our No. 1 problem because it costs to get rid of them,” said Freise. “Nobody will take them for free, so we have to pay somebody to take them.”

“You can’t put them in a landfill anymore,” Benter pointed out. “You can’t just put them at your curb for (trash collectors) to take.”

“Any metal that we find, we can cash that in for recycling — aluminum, steel . . . , and the trash we can take to a landfill, but the tires we have to take to a tire shredder,” said Freise.

“We have to pay, depending on the size of the tire, between $2 and $5. I think the big truck tires are like $5, and they won’t accept them on the rims anymore because somebody evidently got hurt at the tire shredder last summer,” Benter added. “There used to be a $3 or $4 charge just to take them off the rims.”

It’s a curiosity to the volunteers why people continue to dump tires in the river.

“Usually when you buy new tires, the place where you buy them will take your old tires if you don’t want them,” said Freise, noting there is a tax on new tires that covers the cost of the recycling.

At last year’s cleanup, the volunteers pulled 303 tires from the Bourbeuse, along with 10 cubic yards of trash and 1,752 pounds of scrap metal.

That’s actually much less than they used to collect in the earliest years of the annual cleanups, when many people in the community were still of a mindset that throwing trash and unwanted items in the rivers and streams was acceptable.

“When we first started, you could fill your canoe with just soda and beer cans,” said Benter, who began volunteering with the Bourbeuse River Operation Clean Stream in 1986.

Today, more and more people are thoughtful and conscientious about those things, Benter and Freise said, but that’s in large part due to raising awareness with events like Operation Clean Stream.

Always Held Fourth Saturday of August

The Bourbeuse River Operation Clean Stream is known as Missouri Stream Team No. 3, which means it is the third oldest in the state.

It was formed shortly after the referendum to dam the Meramec and Bourbeuse rivers was defeated, said Benter.

Since 1967, the Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region has organized Operation Clean Stream, one of the country’s largest and longest running river restoration and cleanup projects.

Today there are more than 5,000 stream teams across Missouri.

The Bourbeuse River group cleans up 145 miles of the Bourbeuse River, from Owensville down to Moselle, where it flows into the Meramec, said Benter. Other stream teams take care of the Meramec, the Big River, Courtois and Huzzah.

All of those annual cleanups are set on the same day — the fourth Saturday in August every year. This year, that’s next Saturday, Aug. 22.

About 300 volunteers from Franklin and Gasconade counties take part each year. They divide themselves into 30 teams, each handling a 5- to 8-mile stretch of the river and access points.

At a team captains meeting held a couple of weeks prior to the cleanup, the chairmen hand out trash bags, gloves and first-aid kits for each team. They also talk about safety and stress that if something were to happen before the cleanup, like the river suddenly rises high, teams assigned to some stretches may want to postpone their cleanup until another weekend, but others may feel their stretch is perfectly navigable.

“We leave it up to each captain to decide,” said Benter.

In addition to the annual cleanup held in August, the Bourbeuse Stream Team trustees have adopted the Reiker’s Ford access and clean it on a monthly basis.

Each March, all of the Bourbeuse River accesses are cleaned.

Volunteers and Sponsors

The day of the clean up begins with breakfast served to early birders who want it at 6 a.m. at the Beaufort Lions Club, with teams heading out to begin their clean ups between 8 and 9 a.m. They begin returning to the Beaufort Lions Club with all of the trash they collected between 3 and 4 p.m.

Boy Scouts from Beaufort and Gerald Troops 434 and 448 help unload the trash, and volunteers from the Beaufort-Leslie Fire Department assist in cleaning off the piles of tires they collect.

At the end of the day, everyone gathers for a post-cleanup picnic at the Beaufort Lions Club Hall. The menu includes a roasted hog, locally made bratwurst, potato salad and side dishes provided by the clean stream volunteers.

“This is more than a picnic,” said Benter. “It is an opportunity for like-minded people to protect our natural water resource.”

They also hold a raffle for a new canoe, and this year there will be an auction beginning at 6:15 p.m. for a 30th anniversary quilt made by Theresa Brueggemann featuring the artwork (created by Ron Emig) from Bourbeuse River Operation Clean Stream T-shirts over the last 20-plus years.

The canoe raffle and this year the quilt auction will help pay the expenses of the cleanup, like the tire recycling fee and the picnic, and also help fund three stewardship scholarships they award each year to graduating high school seniors who have been involved in the annual cleanup.

Since 2002, the Bourbeuse River Operation Clean Stream has given out 36 Environmental Stewardship awards.

In addition to these fundraisers, the cleanup is sponsored by more than a dozen groups and businesses, including:

Clean stream supporters;

Beaufort Lions Club and volunteer servers;

Beaufort-Leslie Fire Department;

Beaufort and Gerald Boy Scout Troops 434 and 448;

Bruce Bolte Waste Hauler;

Franklin County Highway Department;

Purina Mills (one hog);

Grus Meat Processing and half-hog;

Pepsi-Cola of New Haven;

Reel Ice Co.;

Union Kiwanis (event insurance);

Missouri Department of Conservation (supplies);

Open Space Council;

Union Wal-Mart; and

Union FFA.

People who want to be involved and help the stream team have a number of ways they can do that. Not everyone is able to be that volunteer who actually picks up and hauls in the trash, said Freise, because that mostly requires people to have their own canoe or johnboat to use.

“They can come to the post-event picnic and help clean the tires — we have to clean the tires before we take them to the shredder. Or unload the trailers or maybe help with the meal,” said Freise.

“There’s a camaraderie to all of it,” said Benter. “It’s kind of a family gettogether, our clean stream family. That’s what’s held this together for 30 years. It’s not because we need to clean the river. It’s more than that.”

Weirdest and Grossest

There have been a number of unusual items that volunteers have pulled out of the Bourbeuse River these last 30 years, but some of the most unexpected have been a wheelchair, bowling ball, safe and two sets of false teeth found on a branch, said Benter.

The grossest thing was something simple — four or five trash bags full of grass clippings.

“They were cinched shut, and when we opened them up, it smelled worse than manure,” Benter recalled. “Because they were biodegradable, we emptied them on the shoreline and disposed of it that way.”

Volunteers have occasionally kept some of the items they’ve pulled out of the river — things like fishing poles, roofing material, wood, lawn chairs . . .

“One time someone in our group ended up finding a johnboat. It had the registration numbers on it, so we went to the sheriff’s department, police departments, even the state, I think, trying to find out who the owner was, but we could never get the owner’s name, so the fellow kept it,” said Benter. “We tried to do the right thing and get it back to the proper owner, but we couldn’t find him.”

Freise said most of the trash volunteers collect these days comes from public access points.

“If you go downstream from any public access point, that’s where we find most of the trash and tires,” he remarked.

Some people intentionally dump stuff, but there also are occasions when the river comes up faster than people expect and takes things with it, said Freise. Some of the trash is residual, too, from decades ago before there were rural trash pickups.

“People used to just throw stuff in a ditch on their farms, and a lot of that ended up in the rivers,” said Freise. “Some of it too though is trash people throw on the street, and that ends up in the river eventually.”

Being Good Stewards

Both Freise and Benter said they and all of the volunteers who help with Operation Clean Stream do it because they love the river and enjoy its

“It’s just a matter of wanting to keep the rivers clean. Good stewardship, I call it,” said Benter.

“I want to leave it for my grandsons in as good of condition as I found it, or better,” said Freise. “I love the river. I spent my life fishing and swimming and having fun on the Bourbeuse. It’s important to me, and I want it to be there for future generations.

“I don’t want it to be a trash dump,” Freise remarked.

Much of the clean up on the river is about aesthetics — wanting to keep the waterway as natural and beautiful as it can be, but keeping the water safe for the environment is a big part of it too, Freise said.

“The state of the land and rivers around us are the status of the human race,” he said. “It’s kind of a reflection on us. If we have healthy rivers and streams and the land is healthy, that reflects on us as stewards of the land,” said Freise. “Some people still get drinking water from the major rivers like the Missouri and the Mississippi.

“I’ve pulled motors and transmissions out of the Bourbeuse, and that’s flowing into these other rivers. Like they say, everybody lives downstream. You might be dumping it here and thinking it’s somebody else’s problem, but if somebody up stream from you is doing the same thing . . . that’s why it’s everybody’s problem,” Freise commented.